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India agrees $560 mln US artillery deal: officials

India is updating its military capabilities with hardware worth tens of billions of dollars in the face of long-standing tensions with regional rivals China and Pakistan.

“The contract for the ultra-light howitzers was awarded on Friday to BAE Systems Inc” of the United States, a unit of Britain-based BAE Systems Plc, a senior defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity..

The government will spend 30 billion rupees ($560 million) on the field guns, the official said.

The howitzers, with a maximum range of 30 kilometres (17 miles), will be used by the army’s mountain artillery divisions along India’s high-altitude frontiers.

India has fought three wars with arch-rival Pakistan since independence in 1947, but China is increasingly seen as the main focus of its ambitious military modernisation and procurement policy.

The military is acquiring a slew of new equipment from combat aircraft to submarines and in March, the country announced military spending for the current financial year would total 1.93 trillion rupees ($40 billion).

Saturday’s announced purchase marks the first time in more than a quarter of a century that India is buying howitzers.

India last purchased guns for the army in 1986 when it bought 410 howitzer field guns from the Swedish arms giant AB Bofors.

A year later, Swedish media alleged top Indian politicians and military officials had been bribed in connection with the deal.

Corruption accusations over the Bofors contract cost then Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi the 1989 national elections. His name was cleared by an India court in 2004, 13 years after he was killed by a Tamil suicide bomber.

But the scandal cast a long shadow. Analysts say concern over graft has made it difficult to get Indian defence deals cleared with bureaucrats unwilling to make decisions for fear of being accused of “procurement irregularities.”

Finalisation of the howitzer deal could take up to at least a year, other defence officials said.

Published Date: Friday, May 11th, 2012 | 11:13 PM

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